This is a critique of an article published in the Manchester Evening News, which praises a so-called ‘sex workers’ charity’ for offering prostituted women hot chocolate – whilst also referring to them as “sex workers”.
In the same way that newspapers once promoted the sexual exploitation of women by publishing pornographic images (e.g. topless images of women were once displayed on page 3 of The Sun – OBJECT protested against this practice alongside other members of the ‘No More Page 3’ campaign – the campaign was a success and ‘Page 3’ was discontinued), Manchester Evening News endorses the sexual exploitation of women by referring to prostituted women as “sex workers”. We OBJECT.
A chalk message left outside The News Building (London) in 2015 as part of the successful ‘No More Page 3’ campaign.
The MEN article is written irresponsibly with a certain agenda in mind – to portray the sexual abuse of women (in this case via prostitution) as a normal aspect of life and to dismiss its harms. The author aims to ease the concerns of ‘non-prostituted’ women, and also to validate the men who rape prostituted women (but who still want to consider themselves decent humans). The title declares that, “On the brutal streets of the red light districts women are at risk of violence every time they get into a car.” But never fear, readers – the subtitle proclaims reassuringly that “there’s one place they can feel safe.”
This ‘safe haven’ is provided by a ‘charity’ called MASH (Manchester Action for Street Health). It is lauded for offering hot drinks to women who are raped on the streets under the guise of prostitution – or, as MEN puts it, “offering temporary respite from a tough job.”
This critique is not written to discredit the efforts of anyone who may genuinely want to help prostituted women. There is surely value in offering prostituted women temporary refuge, hot food and drink.
But it’s not enough.
Irresponsible reporting by the media suggests that prostitution is OK and that despite the inherent violence, it’s sufficient to offer raped women hot drink and a pie. Prostituted women deserve to be assured that their abuse is not their fault and it is not OK. The Nordic Model supports this message by criminalising the male abusers (sex buyers), decriminalising prostituted women and – crucially – helping women leave their abusers and exit prostitution. At OBJECT we believe implementation of the Nordic Model in the UK would be the best strategy for aiding prostituted women. In the meantime, those who wish to support prostituted women should adopt the spirit of the Nordic Model – blame the abuser, not the victim; and if possible, offer the women an exit route.
The MEN article’s author blithely reports that, in between being raped and/or beaten by men, prostituted women “can chat about life and pass the time of day, like any other worker.”
Manchester Evening News does not refer to these women as abused or exploited, but as “on-street workers” doing a “tough job.”
The article mentions that prostituted women are “selling sex to pay the bills.” This language puts the onus onto the woman, suggesting she is an ‘entrepreneur’ who has ‘chosen’ this particular ‘sales venture’. It is also reported that women are “tricked into unprotected encounters with strange men.” Use of the passive voice, referring to the woman as “tricked”, also eliminates the actions of the male rapist from this exchange. Who was she “tricked” by? The blame is placed on the victim.
The male ‘buyer’ or rapist of prostituted women is painted as a mysterious, untraceable entity – the invisible, “strange [man].” In fact, he is probably a ‘normal’ man. A man who may be sitting on the train reading this article in the Manchester Evening News, being validated in his belief that it is OK for women to be raped – it’s their job, after-all. They even get provided with breaks and hot chocolate.
When I clicked the link to this article, I expected some anecdotes or statistics on the violence faced by prostituted women in Manchester. Instead, the article reports that: “Hot chocolate is the most popular choice among the sex workers who step aboard for a drink, [MASH] staff say.” What is the purpose of using such a quote in the article? So readers can relate to the “sex worker” on a human level, and yet detach (as the prostituted woman herself does) from the horrors of her life? Perhaps terms such as “sex worker” allow readers to collude in the prostitute’s own delusion that what men are doing to her is OK (rape, violence, exploitation)– she must hold this delusion to survive and endure such abuse.
The MEN seeks to comfort readers that a ‘charity’ is providing prostituted women with hot chocolate – this isn’t enough to abolish the prostitution industry. The public could be enlightened as to the truth of prostitution, so that they are enraged into action – not comforted by stories such as this.
MEN report that the women are “vulnerable” and suffering from “poverty”, but MASH seem to think that this is due to lack of demand on the streets – they don’t even consider the possibility that these women deserve to ‘earn a living’ in a way which doesn’t involve being raped on a daily basis. The problem for prostituted women is often a lack of exit opportunities. If the charity MASH cared about these women then they would work harder to aid women in leaving prostitution, rather than lamenting the lack of demand (by male rapists):
“We have been told that women are finding it a lot harder to earn the money. Things are very quiet,” Tina Threadgold, MASH’s operation manager said.
Tina goes on to say that “some women have even dipped into begging,” as if that’s a legitimate ‘job on the side’ – and as if it is somehow worse to beg for money and food than to be raped for it.
The report states that some of the women they refer to as “sex workers” are “just teenagers”. No concern is expressed over the age that women are supposedly ‘choosing’ this ‘line of work’.
It even uses “sex work” as a verb, supposedly to endorse the ‘agency’ of the woman:
“Some women may only need to sex work a couple of times at the end of the month in order to pay the bills. For others it’s a full time job that helps them earn money for their families.”
The article refers to a clinic held by MASH informing prostituted women about sexual health issues:
“Most of the women they see are very aware of their own sexual health, but a small minority are contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs).”
This sentence couldn’t have been phrased in a more condescending manner. It suggests that raped women who catch STIs are simply being ignorant of their sexual health. Again, the male rapist is made invisible, as if women are simply “contracting” STIs from thin air. The male buyer/rapist is the one passing along the STIs. He is also the one who demands or “tricks” a woman into not using a condom.
The MEN also fuel the myth that women usually enter prostitution due to drug addiction:
“The most desperate are trapped in a cycle of addiction that forces them onto the streets, most nights, to earn money to fund expensive habits.”
Serious drug addiction is patronisingly referred to as “expensive habits” as if prostituted women are addicted to buying handbags, squandering away their money irresponsibly.
Research by Dr Linda DeRiviere (cited in Kat Banyard, 2016, p. 79) found that only 12.9% of women entered prostitution in order to fund drug or alcohol addiction; however, once within the industry, 95% developed a serious addiction as a “coping mechanism”.
MEN report that 40% of the women who use MASH’s services are migrants. By referring to these women as “sex workers” it suggests that some races are ‘naturally’ more inclined to ‘enjoy’ being raped for money. It is simply the natural order of things. The racism of this sentiment was recently expressed by @RadfemBlack on Twitter:
Suggesting that prostitution is a ‘choice’ is racist.
The MEN article ends with a quote by MASH chief executive Cate Allison saying that, “In the city street sex workers are invisible. Most people don’t choose to see them.”
The women exploited in the prostitution industry continue to be made invisible by this irresponsibly written article, diminishing the nature of their torture by describing it as “sex work”, condescendingly referring it to “a tough job” and blaming the abused women. The men who ‘buy’ women to rape are also made invisible, to protect their egos and careers, and to excuse them from responsibility.
“The invisible man is invisible no more – we are holding him up to face the music.”
(Rachel Moran – survivor of prostitution, 2015; cited in Bindel, J., 2017, p. 127)
We OBJECT to irresponsible reporting on the sexual exploitation of women. We OBJECT to use of terms such as “sex work,” which disguise the fact that prostitution is the rape of women by men. We OBJECT to the protection of male ‘buyers’ a.k.a rapists through failure to highlight their responsibility for the existence of prostitution.
At OBJECT we want to amplify the voices of survivors of prostitution, who are able to shed light on the nature of the industry. We also want to push the perpetrators – the men who buy and sell women to rape – into the cold light of day. We endorse the Nordic Model. We OBJECT to media cover-up of the harsh reality of the prostitution industry; whether that is through glamorisation of prostitution as a ‘lifestyle choice’, or through reassuring the public that prostitution is OK because it is “just a job” – and there’s no need to worry about how the women cope with such a “tough job”, because someone is already out there providing hot chocolate.
Abbit, B. (2018) On the brutal streets of the red light districts women are at risk of violence every time they get into a car. Manchester Evening News. Accessed 28/10/2018 from https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/brutal-streets-red-light-districts-15304103?fbclid=IwAR26b3aY9ZHd0OOyOhHC2jiI-Q_mq3vLZx0CWc_YE06Nv4th3MKh1Usvkpk
Aston, C. (2018) No More Page 3: Our grassroots campaign took on a huge corporation, and we won. The Independent. Accessed 29/10/2018 from https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/no-more-page-3-our-grassroots-campaign-took-on-a-huge-corporation-and-we-won-9992371.html
Banyard, K. (2016). Pimp State: Sex, Money and the Future of Equality. London: Faber & Faber.
Bindel, J. (2017) The Pimping of Prostitution: Abolishing the Sex Work Myth. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Nordic Model Now (n.d.) FACT: Prostitution is inherently violent. Accessed 29/10/2018 from https://nordicmodelnow.org/facts-about-prostitution/fact-prostitution-is-inherently-violent/
Nordic Model Now (n.d.) What is the Nordic Model? Accessed 29/10/2018 from https://nordicmodelnow.org/what-is-the-nordic-model/
Nordic Model Now (n.d.) FACT: Women often struggle to leave prostitution. Accessed 29/10/2018 from https://nordicmodelnow.org/facts-about-prostitution/fact-women-often-struggle-to-leave-prostitution/
Nordic Model Now (n.d.) Prostitution Survivors’ Testimony. Accessed 29/10/2018 from https://nordicmodelnow.org/testimonial/
Nordic Model Now (n.d.) MYTH: Punters are lonely single men. Accessed 29/10/2018 from https://nordicmodelnow.org/myths-about-prostitution/myth-punters-are-lonely-single-men/